from Onanism to Orgy: The joy of collaboration

Stand up comedy is a solitary pursuit that by necessity requires a crowd (for Edinburgh Fringe veterans, by crowd I mean seven or more).  I enjoy touring as my schedule might suggest, though there are times of loneliness. This is not melodramatic loneliness or the true loneliness that an OAP experiences when forgotten by family and deserted by friends now dead, it’s a mild fug of paranoia and self-pity. It is the clash of knowing no one in a strange town and being aware that, in a few hours’ time; you will stand in front of some of those strangers and hope they like the cut of your jib. When I tour, I tour alone. My shows are too long to add a support act too; brevity has rarely been a companion of mine.

This is one of many reasons that I mooted the idea of adding a subsidiary tour to my solo one, a show where I would play the fool with Josie Long and Grace Petrie. There is far less time for nerves, nausea and uncertainty when you are dicking about with friends, especially friends whose competitive streak is personal and does not require the failures of others for a sense of glorious victory. I am fortunate that in most of my career, I have worked with people who have not seemed to be ruthless backstabbers with a supercilious smile and a switchknife. I might just have been blind to their crushing asides when I took to the stage, but with rare exceptions, the sods, turncoats and assassins have been fewer than you might think from the images of stand up in fiction.

The dressing room can be a slaughterhouse of wisecracked abuse, but this is usually to disguise the terror of failure and, sometimes, the jealousy of others’ success.  This is not comedians’ nature, it’s just human nature. There is a sense of rude health when bitching is not required and the coat-tails of others goes unmentioned.

The problem of solo touring is most of your conversations are with yourself, the neurons splinter into further personalities, the skull bickering gets louder, sometimes it leaves the bony interior and pops out of your mouth, the mumbling madman catches himself and places the phantom wretches back in his head, silent again, at least  to the outside world.

Solo tours can be creative. I look at the notes I had when I began my tour and see that half of those ideas have been jettisoned, yet the show remains as long, sometimes longer. I am sure I would be appalled if I saw some of the early tour shows in March. Though conversations with yourself can lead to creativity, there is something very different that can be drawn out by working with others.  There is a giddiness in assembling a horde to create an idea that may turn out to be a wreck, but will create fireworks as it explodes. I think of the sitting on cushions in the sun with Joanna Neary, Josie Long, Martine White and Neil Edmond at the back of the literature tent at Latitude Festival and realising that the only way to create a truly committed reading of Danielle Steel’s Love poetry was to add discordant squeezebox noises and spasmodic mute interpretations. To start the day thinking it might be best to turn Crabs on the Rampage into an epic improvised concept album with Robyn Hitchcock, and ending it with 30 musicians cramped on stage, with mimes and opera singers and metal boxes that make strange noises, clearly aware this is a one off event, provides a joy greater than a well-turned punchline. 

This is the delight of working on The Infinite Monkey Cage, the vibrant, sometimes facetious, arguments with Brian Cox, in the afternoon that create the chemistry (he never likes chemistry being mentioned, so maybe I should have said the physics), of the evening recording. The same goes for the monstrous backstage confusion when we create the Christmas shows with their laser harps and giant test tubes. 

This is why I decided that next year I would return to creating club nights in between touring whatever my next solo show about the mind will become. I was not content with one new club night, so instead will attempt three, each regularly occurring in Brighton, Northampton and London. The Book Club returns, but in a different guise and now with the seedy allure of extended title, The Dirty Book Club. Themed filth and collaborations with Joanna Neary, George Egg and further guests should create something beyond the boundaries of comedy nights for those who wish to relax with a pitcher of beer and let the structure of the punchline intermittently boot them in the ribs. Pointless Anger, Righteous Ire, the Waldorf and Statler made diseased flesh in the shape of Michael Legge and I, will be reinvented beyond our usual Dog Day Afternoon siege situation shows. Your Culture is Ailing, Your Art is Dead will, I hope, but an unscrupulous, pustulous bile burst of art we hate,  mixed with a flower petal carpeted  celebration of visual and audio art that is, in the mind of my companions, under praised or ignored by the mass media. Some may succeed, all may fail, but I look forward to returning to the chaos with potential. 

First London Dirty Book Club is next week at Chortle Book Festival http://www.comedybookfest.com/#!robin-inces-dirty-book-club/c225z

The club nights will be at http://www.nncontemporaryart.org in Northampton on 15/1, 19/2, 19/3,  http://www.upstairsatthreeandten.co.uk/home.php in Brighton 14/1, 11/2, 11/3 and  http://theoldqueenshead.com in Islington on 20/1, 17/2 and 17/3 – with the different clubs alternating.

The London Pointless Anger show will be monthly at http://www.comedycafetheatre.co.uk first tuesday of each month.

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4 Responses to from Onanism to Orgy: The joy of collaboration

  1. Bob Owen says:

    Great blog and radio shows, now to track down a live show. In need of good thoughtful laughs as you clearly have the recipe.

  2. And maybe a Caitskills Gag Night from those you wouldn’t expect!

  3. John Myhill says:

    Bloody brilliant that you’re including Northampton, your last visit was such a good night.

  4. Any thought to doing a subversive panto next Xmas as a “9 Lessons…” replacement?

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